Thursday, March 29, 2012

A Bright Future Right At Home

A baby girl prematurely pushed her way into the world.  It wasn't easy, considering that her mother had been given belladonna as most women were at the time.  She spoke far earlier than she walked.  "Take the baby to the park," she would say, referring to herself in the third person.

Her mother, an immigrant woman who had descended from a long line of rabbis, reluctantly gave her little girl bacon.  It would give her strength, the doctor advised.  Her husband, who saw an opportunity for a ham sandwich, had his requests sharply turned down.  If he wanted ham, he would have to go to the diner for it.

The little girl's parents took in her father's brothers and their families, so their apartment always seemed full.
Some would stay but a few days, others a few weeks and some others would stay for months at a time.  Between that and running a millinery store, the little girl's mother got worn out.  Later on she would learn that
her mother had had a nervous breakdown. While her mother recuperated, the little girl went to school in a one room schoolhouse in Michigan.

Two years later, the little girl woke up with a sore throat, a scarlet tongue and a fever  She had scarlet fever, and was very sick. She was bedridden for a long, long time.  Since they lived above the millinery store, her mother was able to take time to give her lunch and play the piano to cheer her up.  When the little girl recovered, she had to learn to walk all over again.  She never really relearned how to walk like an eight or nine year-old girl would.  Many years later she would explain to her own daughter that physical therapy was only available for the wealthy, and that is why she never recovered her gait.

Her cousins wanted her to go some place with them. The girl called up her father to ask for permission. Much to her consternation, she was unable to hear him. It was only  then that she realized that scarlet fever had left her deaf in one ear.  That did not hinder her ability to learn languages.  She never learned to lipread. She adapted by learning how to position herself so that no one was ever speaking into her bad ear.  Few people ever knew.

"Sis, " her father asked her, "will you open the store tomorrow morning?"

"Yes," she murmured.

What her father didn't realize was that his teenaged daughter was sound asleep.

The following morning the store didn't open on time.  Her father slapped her face.  It's the only time
he ever did.

One day her father took her to the campus of Northwestern University.  "You will go here one day," he said.
Then he took her to the campus of the University of  Chicago.  "Some day you will go here, too."  She attended both universities, but not before spending a year and a half  at the Sorbonne.

The young woman stood on the deck of the SS Normandie.  While she was disappointed that she had to cut short her studies at the Sorbonne, she realized the dangers that Hitler's invading armies posed to her safety. No doubt her aunt and uncle would have to do something drastic  to survive  the war.  She wondered, too, when she would next hear from them.  She figured that they would somehow be OK.

As she gazed out over the Atlantic, the young woman wondered when she would hear from the
person who was supposed to contact her once she got back home. She was to hand over the
silver fox stole she had agreed to smuggle into the States on behalf of this family.  She had a hunch that there were things sewn into the stole's lining.

The young woman pushed all of that out of her mind. Her thoughts shifted to the life she had left behind in Chicago.  Soon she would be reunited with her mother, father, and kid brother.  While she would miss her friends at the Sorbonne,  she looked forward to once again working in her folks' millinery store.  She was excited about enrolling at Northwestern in the fall. She would miss Paris, City of Light,  but she felt certain she had a bright future right at home.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Moments Between a Little Girl and Her Mother

One warm day a little girl and her mother were walking down the street.  The little girl wanted to run across the lawn and ring the bells in the church bell tower.  Her mother didn't know why her little girl wanted to run. Just that she wanted to.  She held on to the little girl's hand really tight.  At first the little girl strained against her mother's grasp but then she stopped.
The little girl stood on the stairs and watched her mom sweep the steps.  "What is your name," her mom asked.

"Debbie Mouyay," the little girl replied.

"What's your name," her mom persisted, trying to get the little girl to say Miller.

"Debbie Mouyay," the little girl said loudly.

"What's your name," her mom asked yet again.

"Debbie Mouyay," the girl said in an exasperated tone.
The little girl watched her mom do the laundry.  "I want to be a mommy when I grow up."   That was already the little girl's second career decision.  Her first was that she wanted to be a clown, which she had announced one morning at the breakfast table.  This announcement pleased her mother more.
One summer day her mother promised her ice cream.  The little girl never got her ice cream that day.

"But you promised," the little girl cried.

Her mother never gave a reason for the broken promise.  The little girl never believed promises ever again.
The little girl held onto her mother's hand as they crossed the street to talk to the neighbor ladies.  The little girl felt shy and a little bored.  She went underneath her mother's dress.  She looked up and saw her mother's legs and her mother's panties. After a moment she came out from there.
The little girl came down the stairs one day and asked her mom, "what am I?"

Her mom looked up from the piano and said, 'You are a Jew," guessing correctly that the little girl was not asking about whether she was a boy or a girl.

The answer pleased the little girl, and filled her with pride.
The little girl had tears in her eyes as she ran home from the neighbor's house. She had just been accused of killing "Our Lord," and sought her mother out for comfort.

"What's a Christian," she finally asked her mother.

"A Christian is someone who follows in the footsteps of Christ," her mother explained.

The little girl imagined people walking from giant footprint to giant footprint..  She was still unsure what a Christian was, but she kept it to herself.
The little girl was being unusually rambunctious.  She was running around and around the dining room table.  Her mother,  playing hand after hand of solitaire, was uncharacteristically taciturn.  "You wouldn't be behaving that way if you knew your grandpa had died." The little girl stopped playing.
The little girl's mother used to read to her from Arabian Nights and other stories.  She would kiss the little girl on the cheek and say, "See you in the morning, Mirtsishem.  (God willing.)
The little girl was teased at school.  Her mother would say, "They are jealous of you because you are
smart."  "They are jealous of you because you are pretty."  "They are jealous of you because you are pretty and smart."

The little girl never really believed that, but she knew her mother was doing her best to console her.
One night the neighbor ladies came over for a coffee klatch.  The little girl watched from the stairs and listened to the women greeted one another.  After they left the little girl went up to her mother.  "They don't really like each other, do they?"

"No," her mother replied.
The little girl's mother taught her that if you put the leaf of an African violet in water, a root would eventually grow and you could start a new plant.
The little girl used to watch her mother weed the lawn.
The little girl sat in the window and watched the snow fall.  She was happy when her mom came home. That was the beginning of the blizzard.

The little girl and her dog played in the snow.  Later on her mother made her hot chocolate.
The little girl went with her mother to the polling place in the church.  She watched her mother flip the lever for the entire Democratic ticket and then flip up the ones she did not want.  When her mother was done voting, the curtain to the voting booth opened up and they went home.
One evening the little girl and her mother took their dog on a long walk.  She wanted to show the little girl where her dad was taking classes in night school so that he could teach data processing.
When the little girl's dad started teaching, he wouldn't come home until well past her bedtime.  The little girl asked her mother to wake her up so she could spend time with him.   Her mom would do that.  The little girl would stay up about a half an hour with her dad and then go back to bed.
The night the little girl and her mom and dad were moving, the little girl's dad had to teach.  The little girl and her mom sat in the parking lot along with the rest of their things.  They went to a nearby diner and carried dinner back to the car.  The little girl  read comic books out loud to her mother.  They laughed.
The little girl's mother would tell her, "I love you.  Don't forget."  The little girl grew up.  She never forgot.